Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 2010
Gerald L. Schlessman Chair in Methodist Studies; Assistant Professor of Theology, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado; Provisional Elder in The United Methodist Church appointed to the extension ministry “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century” as a member of the Academy of Interns.
In her teaching, her research, and her work in the church, Rev. Michele Watkins-Branch is focused on “helping Black women know that they are essential in the building of God’s kingdom.” She has been motivated in her ministry by the ongoing experience of Black women, in particular their experience of humiliation, exclusion, or excommunication. As a Womanist theologian and scholar, Rev. Watkins-Branch understands this humiliation as an act of violence, one intended to control Black women, limit them, or strip them of their value and self-esteem. Black women are valued only to the extent that they are in service to and support of “white supremacy and capitalist patriarchy.” Because of this reality, she says, “I know my work is purposeful and needed and urgent.”
Much of her work is oriented around this theme because, as she explains, not only are Black women humiliated in their families and communities, but also in their churches. She is driven by a desire to interrupt that experience and “create spaces where Black women can be esteemed.” Pointing to a common theme in Christianity that says, “God is on our side,” she seeks to highlight “the ministry of Christ to help us discern the ways we can get on God’s side.” It is important, she believes, to “recover a sense of the true humility of Christ.”
Rev. Watkins-Branch defines faithfulness as “continually discerning and continually saying ‘yes’ to God.” Being committed to a particular ministry, she believes, is not enough, because “that pre-supposes God wants you to be doing those things.” She stresses the importance of listening:
“I believe that God in Christ really wants to be in constant conversation with us, and wants us to say “yes” to the will as we have discerned it. And that ensures that we are exactly where we need to be—in the right place at the right time, at that kairos moment.”
Although her ministry began taking shape years earlier, her time at Garrett-Evangelical strengthened her commitment: “I was encouraged by the faculty and community—particularly the Black student community—to devote every ounce of my being to prioritize Black women and theology.” She recalls Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Dr. Stephen Ray, Dr. Henry Young, and Dr. Lallene Rector as making indelible impressions on her and her vocation—along with students: “it was the diverse student community at Garrett that helped me refine my Black radicalism in ways that did not diminish the true personhood of non-Black people.”
Rev. Watkins-Branch hopes that CBE will attend to public policy in the future, which “has been the most effective tool for perpetuating Black subjugation on a material level, but also has the potential to be one of the most effective tools for helping Black people thrive.”